Ear Pain

Your child’s ear may hurt when the space behind the eardrum is infected. Your child may also:

  • Be cranky.
  • Not be able to sleep well.
  • Have trouble hearing.
  • Be dizzy.

Most children will have at least one ear infection. Some will have them again and again. It is important to get the care your child needs. Good care helps prevent hearing problems and holes in the eardrum.

How can I take care of my child?

Here are some things you should know:

  • Antibiotics. For mild ear infections, your child may not need an antibiotic. If the doctor prescribes an antibiotic, your child will start to feel better in a few days. But keep giving the medicine until it is all gone. This medicine will kill the bacteria that cause ear infections.
  • Fever and pain. Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with the earache or fever over 102°F (39°C). No aspirin.
  • Going outside. Your child can go outside. Your child does not need to cover the ears.
  • Swimming. Swimming is OK as long as there is no tear in the eardrum or drainage from the ear.
  • Travel. If your child has an ear infection, he can travel by airplane safely if he is taking antibiotics. Have your child drink something, suck on a pacifier, or chew gum when the plane starts coming down or when traveling back down from the mountains by car.

Call your child’s doctor right away if:

  • Your child gets a stiff neck.
  • Your child acts very sick.

Call your child’s doctor during office hours if:

  • Your child still has pain or fever after taking the antibiotic for 48 hours.
  • You have other questions or concerns.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the skin lining the ear canal. This problem is most common among swimmers or children that spend a lot of time in water. If your child has swimmer’s ear, he or she may have the following symptoms:

  • itchy and painful ear canals
  • pain when the ear is moved up and down
  • pain when the tab of the outer ear overlying the ear canal is pushed in
  • ear feels plugged up
  • slight amount of clear discharge at first (without treatment, the discharge becomes yellowish).

What is the cause?

Swimmer’s ear occurs when your child’s ears have been in the water for long periods of time. When water gets trapped in the ear canal the lining becomes damp, swollen, and prone to infection.

Children are more likely to get swimmer’s ear from swimming in lake water, compared to swimming pools or the sea. During the hottest weeks of the summer, some lakes have high levels of bacteria. Narrow ear canals also increase the risk of swimmer’s ear. Cotton swabs also contribute to the problem by causing wax buildup which traps water behind it.

How long does it last?

With treatment, symptoms should be better in 3 days and cleared up in 7 days.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Antibiotic-steroid eardrops for severe swimmer’s ear.(These require a prescription.)Your child needs the eardrops prescribed by your healthcare provider.

    Run the eardrops down the side of the ear canal’s opening so that air isn’t trapped under the drops. Move the earlobe back and forth to help the eardrops pass down. Continue using the eardrops until all the symptoms are cleared up for 48 hours.

    Generally, your child should not swim until the symptoms are gone. If he is on a swim team, he may continue but should use the eardrops as a rinse after each swimming session. Continued swimming may cause a slower recovery but won’t cause any serious problems.

  • White vinegar eardrops.For mild swimmer’s ear, use half-strength white vinegar eardrops. Fill the ear canal with white vinegar diluted with an equal amount of water. After 5 minutes, remove it by turning the head to the side. Do this twice a day until the ear canal gets back to normal.
  • Pain relief.Use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) for pain relief.

How can I help prevent swimmer’s ear?

First, limit how many hours a day your child spends in the water. The key to prevention is keeping the ear canals dry when your child is not swimming. After swimming, get all water out of the ear canals by turning the head to the side and pulling the earlobe in different directions to help the water run out. Dry the opening to the ear canal carefully. If recurrences are a big problem, rinse your child’s ear canals with rubbing alcohol each time he finishes swimming or bathing to help it dry and kill germs. Another helpful home remedy is a solution of half rubbing alcohol and half white vinegar. The vinegar restores the normal acid balance to the ear canal.

Ask your healthcare provider if your child should use ear plugs or a swimming cap.

Common mistakes

  • Do not put cotton swabs in ear canals. They increase earwax buildup. The earwax then traps water behind it and increases the risk of swimmer’s ear.
  • Rubbing alcohol is helpful for preventing swimmer’s ear but not for treating it because it stings an infected ear too much.